Nebraska Football: Ranking the Hardest Games of the 2014 Schedule

Patrick Runge@@patrickrungeCorrespondent IMarch 19, 2014

Nebraska Football: Ranking the Hardest Games of the 2014 Schedule

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    Even with the basketball team making the Big Dance for the first time since 1998, this is still Nebraska, and football still reigns supreme. So even while Nebraska Cornhuskers fans are poring over their brackets and deciding if Creighton blue clashes with Husker red on “school color Friday” at work (hint—it doesn't, go total "Jaysker"), those fans will be keeping an eye on the 2014 football schedule.

    So nuts to this basketball nonsense. Let’s do something important, like break down the difficulty of Nebraska’s 2014 football schedule from No. 12 all the way to No. 1.

Nos. 10-12

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    No. 12: McNeese State (Home, Sept. 06)

    No. 11: Florida Atlantic (Home, Aug. 30)

    No. 10: Purdue (Home, Nov. 1)

    The visit from the Cowboys should mark the last FCS opponent for Nebraska, with the Big Ten’s moratorium on paycheck games kicking in. Florida Atlantic was supposed to be a reunion of the Brothers Pelini, but with Carl’s dismissal, the Owls will be arriving in Lincoln with a new coach and a lot of rebuilding to do. And Purdue in Year 2 of Darrell Hazell’s tenure should see a Boilermaker squad better than 2013—but that’s not saying a lot.

Nos. 7-9

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    No. 9: Rutgers (Home, Oct. 25)

    No. 8: Illinois (Home, Sept. 27)

    No. 7: Minnesota (Home, Nov. 22)

    Yes, Nebraska fans, it’s time to get used to seeing Rutgers as a conference opponent. Thankfully for Nebraska in 2014, the Scarlet Knights should come limping into the B1G. Oklahoma State transfer quarterback Wes Lunt should help Illinois continue its improvement, but the Illini are still quite a way from being competitive.

    After beating Nebraska last year, it may look odd to see Minnesota in the bottom half of Nebraska’s 2014 schedule power ranking. But the Gophers lose a lot from last year’s squad, and it remains to be seen if Jerry Kill can keep Goldie punching at the same level as 2013.

Nos. 4-6

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    No. 6: Fresno State (Away, Sept. 13)

    No. 5: Northwestern (Away, Oct. 18)

    No. 4: Miami (Home, Sept. 20)

    Yes, that’s 2013 BCS buster candidate Fresno State clocking in at No. 6 on the 2014 schedule power rank, even with Nebraska traveling to California. Last year’s 12-2 campaign was a bit of an illusion created by a soft schedule, and this year’s Bulldogs squad should take a step back. Couple that with Fresno State taking on Nebraska after road trips to USC and Utah, and the Bulldogs could be pretty well bruised when the Cornhuskers come to town.

    Northwestern never really recovered from their close, prime-time loss to Ohio State last year, but Pat Fitzgerald should have the Wildcats back and ready for 2014. When you consider that even a struggling Northwestern last year was an “RKIII to 1” (Ron Kellogg III to Jordan Westerkamp) Hail Mary away from beating Nebraska in Memorial Stadium—and maybe ending Bo Pelini’s career in Lincoln—the Purples should always be handled with care.

    And the marquee matchup of the season comes when the Miami Hurricanes come to Lincoln. During Miami’s dominance of the '90s, when big—and slow—Nebraska teams would get eviscerated by Hurricane speed in the Orange Bowl, how many NU fans dreamed of Miami having to come north and play in Memorial Stadium? Well, on Sep. 20, 2014, your dreams come true.

Nos. 1-3

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    No. 3: Iowa (Away, Nov. 28)

    No. 2: Wisconsin (Away, Nov. 15)

    No. 1: Michigan State (Away, Oct. 4)

    Bo Pelini’s “Coach Chickenbleep” press conference at the end of the Iowa game last year—and the attendant speculation as to his continued employment—took some attention away from the entire Iowa bench rushing across the field the moment the game ended to take the Heroes Game trophy and triumphantly raise it over their heads. That should be a moment burned into the memories of Nebraska fans as, finally, this nascent rivalry has some real kindling.

    Nebraska’s return to Madison looks to be a salty affair. In Year 2, Gary Anderson should have a powerful rushing attack led by Melvin Gordon, who will battle with Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah for best running back in the B1G. But Wisconsin will be rebuilding much of its defense, which makes Nebraska’s trip to Camp Randall a little more navigable.

    The rematch with defending B1G champions Michigan State, on the other hand, looks formidable. The Spartans are settled at quarterback with Connor Cook, whose emergence last year was a key cog in their run to a Rose Bowl crown. While Michigan State has some work to do in rebuilding its defense as well, the Spartans still pose Nebraska’s biggest challenge of 2014.

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